Weekends are when most of our work gets done, since we have day jobs in addition to the farm, but this weekend felt more momentous than most. We started out in the henhouse, putting some finishing touches in so that I can use the storage “chute” I designed to keep feed or bedding material in for easy access. We decided to try it out on the bedding first, so as not to tempt the cold winter field mice from our neighbor’s field (the feed remains in a plastic garbage can that clamps shut at the top). Here’s the finished chute, ready to use! Jimmy even put a handle on the plexiglass door for me. So cool! We were able to get two big bags of compressed sawdust pellets into the little shaft on the left here, and because the front is plexiglass, you can see when it needs filled!
I am doing the “deep bedding” system in which the floor of the house is spacious, and you stir the bedding every day or so, as you add more a couple of days a week. This allows the chicken manure to compost on site, while keeping it fresh smelling inside. It really works! I just toss the sawdust around and chop any larger bits into smaller bits and then mix and give a good toss of fresh pellets every now and then. There is no foul smell at all, partly because sawdust is so absorbant, and partly because the bedding pile is so deep, and allows for natural breakdown. After six months or a year, when it gets too deep for them to walk around without hitting their heads, I will empty the whole thing out and work the collected bedding into my garden beds (ones that will not be used that year). Chicken manure is the absolute BEST for nitrogen loving plants, which most veggie garden plants are.
Next, Jimmy got the lambs ready to go out into pasture for the first time. We have had both them and their mamas in the barn for nearly a month, with heat lamps over their separate lambing pens just in case they caught a little shiver–silly probably–lambs and sheep are warm through all kinds of cold temperature. Before letting them out we had some difficult duties to perform. I held the little boys and Jimmy used the elastrator to put little bands in a place that will render them incapable of making any of their sisters pregnant. We will just leave it at that. Then we clipped the hooves of all the mama ewes, and let everyone outside into the eastern pasture….
And out we go….
Since we have the other sheep and the llamas in the western pasture, we closed the corral between the back and East pastures, which the chickens use as their extended worm-hunting territory, and opened the back pasture up to the chickens for the first time. Here they are entering the back pasture, with a mighty Madrona in the background….
After all of this, Jimmy finished building the feeder for the “Creep” in the barn. A creep is a little pen where the door is only big enough for a lamb to enter, and the lambs eat their own food in their own “dining room” so that they don’t have to compete with the big girls, who can be a little rough when it comes to food. (They still come into the barn every night, even when they are out in the pasture during the day.)
After watching a movie with Taj, Jimmy and I stayed up late planning our next set of projects. I’ve been studying Joel Salatin’s approach to livestock management, and the mutually beneficial possibilities for cooperation between chickens and pastured animals. With Salatin’s model, you can put more livestock on your land and get more grass for them to eat, with less flies and parasites to deal with. You just have to split your pastures up into small, half-acre parcels, and rotate the animals through on a circuit, with chickens following close behind, to eat the fly larva and “scratch” to distribute manure intensively in the small fenced areas, which causes the grass to grow better when rain and sun come around. We set a course for building a large shelter and hay storage area in our largest pasture, the back pasture, which could be accessed by four smaller pastures where there is now just one. And then we plotted a similar design for the western pasture. He decided that the eastern pasture would always be reserved for ewes about to lamb, and their lambs.
It is so exciting to be working creatively together on something at a time when people are learning so much about farming and livestock, and trying age-old practices that have sometimes been abandoned. I can’t wait to get more sheep and more chickens! I’m already envisioning a mobile hen house for my gals to scoot along in.
As I write, Jimmy is clearing the back pasture of debris. He has a huge fire down there with blackberry vines and rotted fence posts. Soon we will be doing construction down there on a shelter that we hope can be a gathering place for people as well as sheep!
Oh, another exciting thing happened this last week! The lambs had their first visitors from the city! Two sets of animal lovers in one week! My friend Heather and my brother’s family visited to see the little prancers dance about in the barn. Our friends Diane and Jeff are headed out with their kids on New Years Day as well. Come on out and see the cuties while they are small! Here’s my friend Heather with a sweet lambie…